Qinghai–Tibet railway

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Qinghai–Tibet railway
A train pulled by a pair of NJ2 locomotives travels on the Qingzang railway in 2008
Locale People's Republic of China
TypeHeavy rail
SystemChina Railway China Railway
Operator(s)China Railway Qingzang Group
Opened1984 (XiningNanshankou)
2006 (NanshankouLhasa)
Line length1,956 km (1,215 mi)
Number of tracks1 (Single-track railway)
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge
ElectrificationOverhead catenary 25kV 50Hz (Xining–Golmud)
Operating speed160 km/h (99 mph) (XiningGolmud)
100 km/h (62 mph) (GolmudLhasa)
Map of the Qinghai–Tibet railway

The Qinghai–Tibet railway or Qingzang railway (Standard Tibetan: མཚོ་བོད་ལྕགས་ལམ།, mtsho bod lcags lam; simplified Chinese: 青藏铁路; traditional Chinese: 青藏鐵路; pinyin: Qīngzàng Tiělù), is a high-elevation railway that connects Xining, Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region of China.[1]

The length of the railway is 1,956 km (1,215 mi). Construction of the 815 km (506 mi) section between Xining and Golmud was completed by 1984. The 1,142 km (710 mi) section between Golmud and Lhasa was inaugurated on 1 July 2006, by General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Hu Jintao: the first two passenger trains were "Qing 1" (Q1) from Golmud to Lhasa, and "Zang 2" (J2) from Lhasa to Beijing.[2] This railway is the first that connects the Tibet Autonomous Region to any other provinces. Tibet, due to its elevation and terrain, is the last provincial level region in China to have a railway. Testing of the line and equipment started on 1 May 2006.[3] Passenger trains run from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Xining, and Lanzhou and can carry between 800 and 1,000 passengers during peak season.[4][5]

The line includes the Tanggula Pass, which, at 5,072 m (16,640 ft) above sea level, is the world's highest point on a railway. Tanggula railway station at 5,068 m (16,627 ft) 33°00′18.50″N 91°38′57.70″E / 33.0051389°N 91.6493611°E / 33.0051389; 91.6493611 is the world's highest railway station. The 1,338 m (4,390 ft) Fenghuoshan tunnel is the highest rail tunnel in the world at 4,905 m (16,093 ft) above sea level. The 4,010 m (13,160 ft) New Guanjiao Tunnel is the longest tunnel between Xining and Golmud, and the 3,345 m (10,974 ft) Yangbajing tunnel is the longest tunnel between Golmud and Lhasa. More than 960 km (600 mi), over 80% of the Golmud–Lhasa section, is at an elevation of more than 4,000 m (13,123 ft). There are 675 bridges, totalling 159.88 km (99.34 mi); about 550 km (340 mi) of track is laid on permafrost.

The line will be electrified.[6]


Within the Golmud to Lhasa section of the line there are 45 stations, 38 of which are unstaffed and monitored by the control center in Xining. Thirteen more stations are planned.[7]

Trains and tickets[edit]

Line Z21/Z22 serves between Beijing West railway station and Lhasa railway station

The trains are specially built for high-elevation environments. The diesel locomotives for cargo were built by CSR Qishuyan (DF8B-9000 Series) and by CNR Erqi Locomotive (DF7G-8000 Series), and the locomotives for passenger transportation were built by GE in Pennsylvania (NJ2), and the passenger carriages are Chinese-made 25T carriages: on train Z21/Z22, between Beijing West and Lhasa, Bombardier Sifang Transportation (BSP) made carriages on the Golmud-Lhasa section in deep green/yellow or deep red/yellow. Signs in the carriages are in Tibetan, Chinese, and English. The operational speed is 120 km/h (75 mph) and 100 km/h (62 mph) over sections laid on permafrost.

Lhasa railway station

The railway from Golmud to Lhasa was completed on 12 October 2005, and it opened to regular trial service on 1 July 2006.[8]

The locomotives are turbocharged to combat the power-reducing effect of having to run on about half an atmosphere of air due to extreme altitude.

At the beginning, only three trains ran: Beijing–Lhasa (every day), Chengdu/Chongqing–Lhasa (every other day), and Lanzhou/Xining–Lhasa. Shanghai/Guangzhou–Lhasa services were added in October 2006. In July 2010, the Shanghai–Lhasa service became daily, and a daily service between Xining and Lhasa was added, but the service was then suspended for the winter season.

Since October 2006, five pairs of passenger trains run between Golmud and Lhasa, and one more pair between Xining and Golmud. The line has a capacity of eight pairs of passenger trains.

Oxygen supply and medical issues[edit]

The passenger carriages used on Lhasa trains are specially built and have an oxygen supply for each passenger. Every passenger train has a doctor.

A Passenger Health Registration Card is required to take the train between Golmud and Lhasa. The card can be obtained when purchasing the ticket. Passengers must read the health notice for high-elevation travel and sign the agreement on the card to take the train. On 28 August 2006, a 75-year-old Hong Kong man was reported to be the first passenger to die on the train, after he had suffered heart problems in Lhasa but insisted on travelling to Xining.[9]


Train running along the Qinghai Lake, between Xining and Golmud
Tanggula railway station, located at 5,068 m (16,627 ft), is the highest station in the world

The capital of the Qinghai Province, Xining, became connected with the rest of the country by rail in 1959, when the Lanqing Railway from Lanzhou was completed.[10]

The 815 km (506 mi) section of the future Qingzang Railway from Xining to Golmud, Qinghai opened to traffic in 1984. But the remaining 1,142 km (710 mi) section from Golmud to Lhasa could not be constructed until technical difficulties of building railroad tracks on permafrost were solved.[11] This section was formally started on 29 June 2001, finished on 12 October 2005, and signaling work and track testing took another eight months. It was completed in five years at a cost of $3.68 billion.[12]

Track-laying in Tibet was launched from both directions, towards Tanggula Mountain and Lhasa, from Amdo railway station on 22 June 2004. On 24 August 2005, track was laid at the railway's highest point, the Tanggula Pass, 5,072 m (16,640 feet) above sea level.[13]

There are 44 stations, among them Tanggula Mountain railway station, at 5,068 m (16,627 ft) the world's highest. Peru's Ticlio railway station at 4,829 m (15,843 ft) is the highest in the Americas (Cóndor station; at 4,786 m or 15,702 ft, on the Rio Mulatos-Potosí line, Bolivia, and La Galera station at 4,777 m or 15,673 ft, in Peru, being the next highest). The Qingzang Railway project involved more than 20,000 workers and over 6,000 pieces of industrial equipment, and is one of China's major accomplishments of the 21st century.

Bombardier Transportation built 361 high-altitude passenger carriages with special enriched-oxygen and UV-protection systems, delivered between December 2005 and May 2006. Fifty-three are luxury sleeper carriages for tourist services.[14]

The construction of the railway was part of the China Western Development strategy, an attempt to develop the western provinces of China, which are much less developed than eastern China. The railway will be extended to Zhangmu via Shigatse (日喀则) to the west, and Dali via Nyingchi (林芝) to the east. A further extension is planned to link Shigatse with Yadong near the China-India border[15] (Map[16]). The railway is considered one of the greatest feats in modern Chinese history by the government, and as a result, is often mentioned on regular TV programs. Chinese-Tibetan folk singer Han Hong has a song called Tianlu (Road to Heaven; 天路) praising the Qingzang Railway.

Completed extensions[edit]

On 17 August 2008, a railway spokesman confirmed plans to add six more rail lines connecting to the Qinghai–Tibet railway, including from Lhasa to Nyingchi and from Lhasa to Shigatse, both in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Three lines will originate from Golmud in Qinghai province and run to Chengdu in Sichuan province, Dunhuang in Gansu province, and Korla of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The sixth will link Xining, the capital of Qinghai, with Zhangye in Gansu. The six lines are expected to be in operation before 2020.[17] Construction work of the Lhasa–Shigatse extension began on 26 September 2010;[18] it was opened in August 2014.[19]

The construction of Dunhuang–Golmud railway began in December 2012 and finished on 18 December 2019.[20] This new railway extends the existed Yinmaxia station on the Qinghai–Tibet Railway 506 km (314 mi) to Dunhuang, Gansu,[21] establishing a direct connection between Xinjiang and Tibet.

Addition of capacity and electrification[edit]

A section of the railway between Nanshan and Erlang, in Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai

Given that the Sichuan-Tibet railway is expected to be completed relatively later with less capacity, the Qinghai–Tibet railway is expected to add cargo capacity to fulfill the demand of material transportation. 13 stations along the Qinghai–Tibet railway have received extensions of sidings or passing loops, or these were built from scratch. This will allow the daily train received from Lhasa Railway station to expand from 6 to 12-14. An electrification feasibility study is also in progress.[22]

Connection to Nepal[edit]

In a meeting between Chinese and Nepalese officials on 25 April 2008, the Chinese delegation announced the intention to extend the Qingzang railway to Zhangmu (Nepali: Khasa) on the Nepalese border. Nepal had requested that the railway be extended to enable trade and tourism between the two nations. The section Lhasa-Shigatse opened in August 2014. In June 2018, China and Nepal signed a series of agreements including the construction of Shigatse-Kathmandu railway during Nepali prime minister Oli's visit to China. Construction is expected to be complete by 2024.[23]

Engineering challenges[edit]

Spiral loop at Guanjiao, Qinghai

There are many technical difficulties for such a railway. About half of the second section was built on barely permanent permafrost. In the summer, the uppermost layer thaws, and the ground becomes muddy. The heat from the trains passing above is able to melt the permafrost even with a small change in temperature. The main engineering challenge, aside from oxygen shortages, is the weakness of the permafrost. For areas of permafrost that are not very fragile, an embankment of large rocks is sufficient. Meanwhile, in the most fragile areas, the rail bed must be elevated like a bridge. The engineers dealt with this problem in the areas of weakest permafrost by building elevated tracks with pile-driven foundations sunk deep into the ground.[24] Similar to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, portions of the track are also passively cooled with ammonia-based heat exchangers.

Due to climate change, temperatures in the Tibetan Plateau may be considered to increase by an estimated two to three degrees Celsius[citation needed]. This change is sufficient to melt the permafrost and thereby affect the integrity of the entire system. The effects of climate change have yet to be seen.

Kunlun Pass

The air in Tibet is much thinner, with oxygen partial pressure being 35% to 40% below that at sea level. Special passenger carriages are used, and several oxygen factories were built along the railway. Each seat in the train is equipped with an oxygen supply outlet for any possible emergency. The Chinese government claimed that no construction workers died during the construction due to altitude sickness related diseases.[25] The railway passes the Kunlun Mountains, an earthquake zone. The 7.8 Mw Kunlun earthquake struck in 2001 (but caused no fatalities). Dozens of earthquake monitors have been installed along the railway.



With limited industrial capacity in Tibet, the Tibetan economy heavily relies on industrial products from more developed parts of China. Transport of goods in and out of Tibet was mostly through the Qingzang Highway connecting Tibet to the adjacent Qinghai province, which was built in the early 1950s. The length and terrain have limited the capacity of the highway, with less than 1 million tons of goods transported each year. With the construction of the Qingzang railway, the cost of transportation of both passengers and goods should be greatly reduced, allowing for an increase in volume—the cost per tonne-kilometer will be reduced from 0.38 RMB to 0.12 RMB. It is projected that by 2010, 2.8 million tons will be carried to and from Tibet, with over 75% carried by the railway.[26] Before the railway, the purchasing power of 100 RMB in Lhasa was only commensurate with 54 RMB in coastal regions of China, mainly due to high transport costs. The railway could elevate living standards along the route.[27]


Environmentalists and Tibetan independence activists protested against the construction of the railway. The Tibetan government-in-exile believes that the line and the further expansion of the rail network will contribute to further influx of Chinese people, the de-nationalization of Tibetans and the depletion of the region's natural resources.[28]

According to Chinese state news agency Xinhua News, the Qingzang railway has promoted the inheritance of Tibetan culture and religion, as the opening of the railway has increased the number of worshippers from all over the country coming to Lhasa. It also advantages Tibetans with accessibility to the rest part of China for tertiary education, employment, and market for local industries.[29] Qiangba Puncog, former Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region People's Government, has appreciated the railway for introducing more tourism industries to the region with jobs for the local people.[30]


Wetland by the railway, near the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains

The environmental impact of the new railway is an ongoing concern. The increase in passenger traffic will result in greater tourism and economic activity on the Tibetan Plateau, and the construction of the railway may also negatively impact the local environment. For example, interference on earth, vegetation, and surface water heat exchange, which may cause freeze-thaw erosion and melting of ice if not handled properly.[31] To reduce the interference, trash and excrement on the trains are collected into two sealed containers in each car, instead of disposing them on the tracks, and are taken out at large stations.[32] There are also concerns from the China Meteorological Administration that melting, due to global warming, of the permafrost in Tibet on which part of the railway is placed may threaten the railway within the 21st century.[33]

The effects of this railway on wild animals such as Tibetan antelope and plants are currently unknown. 33 wildlife crossing railway bridges were constructed specifically to allow continued animal migration.


Commentators have noted the potential military impact of this railway as permitting the People's Liberation Army more rapid troop mobilization to certain border areas in dispute with India.[34]

Rolling stock[edit]

Specially built plateau coaches at Beijing West railway station, arriving from Lhasa as Z22

Scenery along the railway[edit]

Since the opening of Qingzang Railway, scenery as viewed from the railway has become internationally famous:[36][37][38]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CHINA TODAY". www.chinatoday.com.cn. Retrieved 20 August 2023.
  2. ^ The Official website of Yunnan province Report of inauguration. Retrieved 1 July 2006.
  3. ^ Shanglin, Luan, ed. (13 April 2006). "Tibet's 1st railway to start unmanned operation". Xinhua. Archived from the original on 15 April 2006. Retrieved 14 April 2006.
  4. ^ "Shanghai strives for straight train to Lhasa". Access Tibet Tour. Retrieved 28 June 2009.
  5. ^ "The Train to Lhasa, Tibet - What You Can Expect on the Ride". 7 June 2017.
  6. ^ Briginshaw, David (24 May 2022). "China to electrify 1136km Golmud - Lhasa line".
  7. ^ "连线青藏铁路总设计师:沿途尚预留13个车站_新闻中心_新浪网". news.sina.com.cn.
  8. ^ "China rolls out railway", BBC News.
  9. ^ "HK man first fatality on Qinghai-Tibet train". South China Morning Post. 29 August 2006. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  10. ^ Goodman, David S. G. (June 2004). "Qinghai and the Emergence of the West: Nationalities, Communal Interaction and National Integration". The China Quarterly. 179 (178): 379–399. doi:10.1017/S0305741004000220. hdl:10453/6047. JSTOR 20192339. S2CID 55915069.
  11. ^ "开拓雪域高原的梦想之路——来自青藏铁路的蹲点报告" (in Chinese). Xinhua News Agency. 12 June 2019. Archived from the original on 24 May 2022. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  12. ^ The first train rumbles on highest railway // Xin Dingding (China Daily), Updated: 1 July 2006
  13. ^ Xinhua News Agency (24 August 2005). New height of world's railway born in Tibet. Retrieved 25 August 2005.
  14. ^ Bombardier (25 February 2005). Bombardier "Awarded A Contract For High Altitude Passenger Rail Cars In Tibet". Retrieved 25 August 2005.
  15. ^ Extension plans. Retrieved 28 June 2006.
  16. ^ Bin, Sun (3 July 2006). "Sun Bin: Qinghai Tibet railway videos".
  17. ^ "Qinghai-Tibet railway to get six new lines". China Daily. 17 August 2008. Retrieved 17 August 2008.
  18. ^ 青藏铁路首条延伸线拉日铁路开工建设_社会频道_新华网. Xinhua News. 26 September 2010. Archived from the original on 29 September 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  19. ^ "Tibet railway opens to Xigaze". Railway Gazette. 15 August 2014. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  20. ^ "敦格铁路今日全线通车". 西海都市报 (in Chinese). 18 December 2019. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  21. ^ 格尔木至敦煌铁路开工. huochepiao.com. 20 October 2012.
  22. ^ "青藏铁路电气化改造进入可研阶段 - 西藏要闻 - 西藏在线". www.tibetol.cn (in Simplified Chinese). Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  23. ^ Om Astha Rai (21 June 2018). "The great march". Nepali Times. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  24. ^ David Wolman, "Train to the Roof of the World", Wired, Vol. 14, No. 7 (July 2006).
  25. ^ "News on Chinese government website", (in Chinese). Quotation: The vice president of Qinghai Medical University, Dr Gerili, said "Because of proper preventions and treatments, among tens of thousands of workers from low altitude, no one died due to altitude sickness. You cannot deny that it's a miracle."
  26. ^  ==="Qingzang railway transported .73M passengers, boosts Tibet economy" Archived 4 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine, CN Radio, (In Chinese).
  27. ^ "News – 青藏铁路使西藏100元不再等于54元".[permanent dead link]
  28. ^ "Protests as Tibet-China rail link opens – theguardian.com". TheGuardian.com. 30 June 2006. Retrieved 25 April 2022.
  29. ^ "西藏自治区社会各界共同庆祝青藏铁路通车一周年" (in Chinese). 中央政府门户网站. 1 July 2007. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  30. ^ "向巴平措:青藏铁路促西藏进入"铁路经济"时代" (in Chinese). 中国新闻网. 29 June 2007. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  31. ^ "News – 修建青藏铁路 造福各族人民". Archived from the original on 5 May 2010.
  32. ^ "News – 旅客"三急"排泄物会熏臭青藏高原吗?". Archived from the original on 23 November 2012. Retrieved 19 July 2008.
  33. ^ "Global warming threatens Tibet railway: report". Reuters. Beijing. 6 May 2009. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  34. ^ Ramachandran, Sudha (6 December 2020). "Tibet Railway Network Speeding Up to the Indian Border". Jamestown Foundation. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  35. ^ 国产机车承担青藏铁路格拉线牵引任务,此前均由美国机车完成. China News Service. 2018-06-23.
  36. ^ The Good Views of Qingzang Railway from Golmud to Lhasa Archived 27 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine (in Japanese)
  37. ^ The Good Views of Qingzang Railway[permanent dead link]
  38. ^ Qingzang Railway (Hudong Encyclopedia) (in Chinese)

36. Xining to Lhasa Train schedule & price - Travel Tibet China

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

World's highest railway links Tibet to rest of China at Wikinews Media related to Qinghai-Tibet Railway at Wikimedia Commons